My Path from Tech Sales to Solutions Engineering

My name is Fran and if you are reading this, you are most likely a close friend of mine or a professional colleague or my mom. 😂 My career in tech for the past 8 years has been a wild ride. I began my career as a sales rep. I sold everything from SAAS/PAAS/IAAS and actual hardware (CPU, Memory, Hard Drives).

During these 8 years I was in sales, I always had a fascination with the engineering side and the tech I was selling. Due to having sales and solutions engineers, I thankfully did not have to dive into the "technical weeds" as they say when the conversation in the sales process came about. I overlayed that to my engineers. If you have ever sold anything or been in sales, it is a tough and stressful gig. Add a layer of complex tech that you have to sell and you understand the huge value a Solutions Engineer has in the sales process.

For the duration I was in tech sales, I was what you call "code curious." I had an internal drive and curiosity to know how things worked at a code level. The issue is that it is rather intimidating. At least to me it was.

Learning to code, server configs, rendering patterns, databases, connectivity, API's site performance: ALL those things can be daunting if you do not come from a technical background. That is why I always would read what I had to about the solution I was selling, but not in depth enough to have a technical conversation. I just thought that it would take me way too long to even begin to understand the ecosystem. It was not a matter of am I capable. It was just a matter of me figuring out if I could add it to the numerous things I have to manage in my life.

Well...the COVID-19 pandemic happened. Generally speaking, yes this is a negative event in the history of Human-Kind. However some positives did come out of the pandemic. For me, it was the beginning of my journey into the JAMstack.

The pandemic hit in March of 2020 and at the time I was working for WP Engine. They are a traditional WordPress host. It was that month that during one of our internal company meetings that our Senior Architect and Developer Relations member Matt Landers ran a demo.

What he demo'ed was a how to set up and get started with Headless WordPress. (FYI Matt is the man in the video on this blog) The tech stack he used was Next JS for the front end, GraphQL for the API layer and WordPress as the CMS.

It was during Matt's demo that 2 things hit me. I realized as we got about 2 months into the pandemic, that social gatherings were not possible. This was during the time when the Government was telling us to stay at home. No activities outside of the house besides essentials. That was the first thing was time. I figured, if I am going to be stuck at home by Government mandate, why not learn something new in quarantine?

The second thing that hit me is JavaScript. When I saw Matt demo Next JS and React, I immediately gravitated toward it. I wanted to learn it and dive head first into the Node JS ecosystem. I can't really pinpoint why the lines of syntax that Matt wrote on the demo and his code rendering on the browser made me fall in love that day. Psychologically, I relate it to being a dopamine hit. It's like that feeling of accomplishment and warm fuzziness when your code compiles.

Immediately, I slacked Matt. After the demo, I asked him on what is the best course of action for me to learn. His advice was to take a bootcamp. He directed me toward Covalence. It was through the Covalence bootcamp that I cut my teeth on the foundation of Web Dev all the way to Modern Web Dev and Mobile Dev on a MERN stack. (MySQL, Express, React, Node).

In the 8 months I was in the Covalence course, I was consumed. I coded every chance I got. Now to be honest, this was much easier in the pandemic. In the early stages of COVID, being in lock down, this was ideal. Coding not only made time go by so fast in quarantine because of how much you can get sucked into your project, but I was enjoying it more and more as I started passing the labs and lessons in the bootcamp.

As I was leveling up my Dev skills in the bootcamp, WP Engine was getting ready to release their Node hosting Headless platform, Atlas. What was happening on my sales team and throughout the sales org was they all began asking me questions on Headless WordPress. I became a source of help and knowledge for the sales team on navigating conversations when opportunities came in from customers that are thinking of adapting the decoupled approach.

It was at this point when I decided to request for a position change internally. I wanted to become a Solutions Engineer to help the sales team as well as the company launch their Headless offering.

My manager proposed what I suggested and they saw a need for the Technical Enablement side of things. Headless WordPress and bringing WordPress to the JAMstack is in its infancy adoption wise and most PHP devs would need education and enablement around it.

This is where I was able to transition into the SE/Tech Enablement role. It was cross functional team wise, very much a start up within a startup. The ever famous analogy my co-workers used to love to say is "We are building the airplane as we fly it." As a team launching what is Atlas, the hosting platform for Headless sites on WP Engine, we were all learning as we went.

Being agile was an understatement in the year we provided enablement, education and solutions to devs adapting Headless WordPress. It also solidified my own passions for being a Solutions Engineer. The ability to be customer facing as well as to understand tech down to code and server level.

I now work at Netlify as a Solutions Engineer. My journey into the JAMstack has only just begun.

Happy Coding!